The thirty-second National Cross-Country Championship was brought to a most successful issue at Newbury Racecourse on Saturday. It is the first occasion on which a race of this character has been decided at the Berkshire venue, and there was much curiosity as to the nature of the course which would be provided for the contest, and the manner in which it would be supported by the public. So far as the first item was concerned, it may be said that there has never been a course better suited for the race from an all-round point of view. We might feel disposed at times to wish for open country to decide a National Championship, but when twenty-five teams compete, and the total number of runners mounts up to 252, it is self-evident that special arrangements are necessary to enable the field to spread before the close obstacles are taken.
Then it is only natural for the friends who accompany the teams to wish for a glimpse at the progress of the race now and again, especially as they provide the sinews of war, and in this respect Newbury is, par excellence, the venue for a championship. The splendidly arranged stands afforded the best possible view for the public, and it is only to be regretted that the attendance was of somewhat meagre proportions. One cannot help thinking that a little bold advertisement would secure for athletics the popularity it deserves and it will be interesting to see whether a different tale will be told in regard to the forthcoming Olympic Games, organised as they are by a council including some of the world's greatest sportsmen, with the genius of Kiralfy boom them.
There was certainly everything in favour of a large attendance on Saturday. The weather was fair, if not exactly bright, and the Great Western Railway did more in the way of excursions than it has ever been the fortune of the National Union to secure in the past. Their excellent services were greatly appreciated, both by the teams and spectators, and it is hoped that the return they received proved satisfactory. Certainly to the facilities granted may be attributed the record entry.
The race itself was regarded as very open. For club places Birchfield were favourites, but Highgate had many supporters while the Northerners regarded the chances of Hallamshire as good. Individually, too, the Northerners would not hear of the possibility of their champion, W. T. Clarke, being defeated, and, entre nous, it may be stated that in the very limited market which existed the Sefton runner was an even money chance. Southerners were divided, some favouring J. E. Deakin, others G. Pearce, A. E. Wood, and even F. C. Neaves, while in the Midlands it was thought to be a close thing between W. Coales, Midland Champion, and A. J. Robertson, who was ineligible to run in their race owing to the radius rule.
Well, the race was a fine one. Clarke went for the lead at once, and at a mile was ahead with G. Pearce, and the pace was distinctly a cracker, the first circuit of the racecourse, well over two miles, being covered in just outside 11 min. At the first obstacle in the country, however, Clarke slipped and injured his foot, and when the men came round at six miles the 'certainty' was not in the running at all. Whether he would have stood a chance of beating the field is a moot point. To those on the spot at the time of his mishap it appeared to be partly due to an exhausted condition, and the race, as it was run, was certainly not in favour of the pacemaker.
With Clarke out, the race continued between Pearce, Coales, and Robertson. Some fancied Deakin would reproduce his Southern running, but it was not to be. Coales gradually drew ahead, with Robertson and Wood hanging on, and once in a bee line for home, away came the Peterborough athlete, and striding out splendidly, finished a gallant winner, the freshest of the front batch, too, in just under the hour, the course being scaled at about 10 miles 300 yards. The going, however, was fairly easy, if somewhat hilly on the outlying country. Coales was a good second, and the young Essex Beagle, A. E. Wood, ran brilliantly to secure third place. George Pearce was fourth, Neaves next, the Irishman, J. Murphy, filling the next place, despite a big effort by Deakin at the finish. The Southern champion was not in his form of a fortnight ago, neither was his runner-up, T. Johnston, while W. H. Brooks, who has been queer during the week, was a long way back. The general running of the Southerners inclined one to think that the terrible race at Wembley affected them, and no wonder.
For team honours there was a desperate struggle, and with so many fine runners in the lesser teams the points were, as expected, very high. When they were worked out it was found that the Northern champions, Hallamshire, had beaten the field, with Birchfield second, and the other Yorkshiremen, Bradford, just beating Highgate for third place. Then came a gap, and Crewe deserve every credit for securing fifth position, inasmuch as they could only put six men in the field. It is notable that of the 25 teams competing all but one finished their full complement of six men, while Birchfield, Essex Beagles, and S.L.H. finished their complete twelve, and Brighton, Crewe, Kent, Queen's Park, Runcorn, and Thrapston finished all their starters, a phase of the contest which will please all old cross-country enthusiasts. The delinquents, among the teams, were Sefton, who seemed utterly upset by Clarke's failure, no less than four following him into retirement at the half distance, including cracks like J. T. Rimmer, Jas. Roberts, and A. G. Roberts.
Every thanks is due to the Newbury racecourse authorities, especially Messrs G. G. Leader and G. Cotterell, for their assistance in connection with the race.
The Oxo representatives were, as usual, to the front with their preparations for the runners who were in any degree distressed, although, fortunately, their services were not so much in demand as at Wembley. Mr J. C. Robinson, the G.W. Railway sports representative, also deserves thanks, especially for his marshalling of the various contingents for the homeward journey when time was getting short.